From A Mountain To The Valley
1 Kings 18:41-46: 19:1-18
We have seen Elijah as the man of the hour on Mt. Carmel. Thus far, Elijah has shown himself to be a mighty man of God who was brave, fearless and committed. We now come to an incident in Elijah’s life that some of us would have omitted if we had written the Bible. One of the greatest evidences that the Bible is the Word of God and not the word of man is that it records not only the triumphs and victories of the men and women of God, but it also records their failures. The sin of David with Bathsheba, the sin of Moses by striking the rock twice instead of speaking to it, the sin of Abraham in lying about his wife, Sarah, and the despondency and the depression of Elijah – God’s Word includes them all.
God’s Word includes for us the weaknesses as well as the strong points of the heroes of faith. Elijah wasn’t a superhero. He made mistakes. He wasn’t so far above us that we cannot identify with him. The problems of these men of God are oftentimes the same problems that we have.
As we have beheld Elijah on the mountain victorious (1 Ki. 18), we now must view him in the valley defeated (1 Ki. 19). Here, we are reminded vividly of the truth of James 5:17; “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are. . .”
“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life . . .” (1 Ki. 19:1-3).
How could it happen that a man who was fearless and undaunted could also immediately lose that courage and begin to run for his life? However, such an experience often happens with the child of God. A psychologist would call it despondency. Oftentimes, after a believer’s greatest spiritual victories, he finds himself in what John Bunyan called the “Slough of Despond.” A Christian should not be surprised if, after some great spiritual victory, a strange period of despondency arrives on the scene.
After this great spiritual experience on the mountaintop, Ahab told his wicked wife, Jezebel, what Elijah had done. She was the hand that ruled her weak-kneed husband. She wasn’t impressed with the report, but replied, “I’m not afraid of him. In 24 hours, he’s going to be dead” (paraphrased).
And then a strange thing transpired. This man of God, who was willing to stand up before the prophets of Baal, in the sight of the nation, turned one hundred eighty degrees and took off in the opposite direction.
Verse 3: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.”
Beersheba is in the southern part of present-day Israel – 150 miles from Jezreel! There he left his servant, but he kept going.
Verse 4: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree. And he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough! Now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”
Why did he leave his servant there and keep going? He was quitting the prophetic ministry; he was not planning on coming back to what he considered to be a land that was wicked beyond help. Then after another day’s journey, he sat down under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life.
What in the world has happened? Where is the Elijah of Mt. Carmel? Where is the Elijah who stood before Ahab and pointed his finger toward him and said, “It’s not going to rain for three years until I say so” (paraphrased)? Are we reading the same story?
Right after a great spiritual experience is the time when Satan’s attacks are the strongest. When I was a pastor, it would happen like this. After a wonderful service of blessing at church, our family would pull out of the church parking lot, and about one-half mile down the road one of the kids would become sick in the car! What a way to deflate a spiritual bubble!
That’s what happened to Elijah. He is on the mountaintop with God, and then a few hours later, after his great spiritual experience, he’s leaving town and running from one woman. Simply stated, Elijah looked at circumstances and not at the Lord. As he first stood before Ahab and said, “You’re the troublemaker” (paraphrased), his eyes were on the Lord. At the brook Cherith, his eyes were on the Lord. On Mt. Carmel, his eyes were on the Lord. And then when he came down, he got his eyes on Jezebel. When we take our eyes off the Lord and look at the circumstances, we become candidates for despondency.
You recall that when Peter was walking on the water, he had his eyes on the Lord, but when he saw the wind and the waves, what happened? Splash!
God used a tremendous therapy with Elijah. Verses 5-7: “And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.” Despondency or despair does not always come from spiritual or emotional causes. Oftentimes, it simply comes from physical causes – lack of sleep or poor eating habits. Satan often attacks us when we’re tired. That was the first step in the Lord’s therapeutic treatment of Elijah’s despondency.
“And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8). He kept on going! He had gone 150 miles to Beersheba and then he kept on going to the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula where Horeb, which is another name for Mt. Sinai, was located. This was 300 miles away from Jezreel and Jezebel. He came to Mt. Sinai, the place where Moses, his predecessor, received the law from God; the place where Israel had made a covenant with God. Why would he go there? I believe he went there because he had so given up on Israel. He wanted God to renew His covenant with him alone and start a new people.
Verse 9: “And he came there unto a cave [the same cave where Moses was covered by God’s hand in Ex. 33:22?], and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him . . .” You’ll notice how that is the first time in this passage that the word of God came to Elijah. In 1 Kings 17:2, 8 and 18:1, the Bible says “the word of the Lord came unto him”, but in 19:3, it doesn’t say that. Elijah was disobedient to God in running away from Jezebel. He was not following the word of the Lord as he had at previous times.
He’s had some food, he’s had some rest, he can now think clearly, so God can now deal with his spiritual problem.
Verse 9 continues: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” In other words, “Elijah, why are you here? You ought to be in Israel. The people there are perishing for lack of knowledge, and you’re in the wrong place.” Verse 10: “. . . I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. For the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
There is Elijah’s depression. And now, he’s in the grips of it because lie’s filled with self-pity. “I’m the only one left. And I’ve done a pretty good job, too. You’ve seen what I’ve done, Lord. I stood up to the prophets of Baal. I’ve stood up to Ahab” (paraphrased). Do you notice the number of I’s? Elijah was a great man of God. Don’t misunderstand me. My criticism of him is not because I have arrived, but because God has recorded it here for us to learn from it and appreciate it. This great man of God had taken his eyes off the Lord and started feeling sorry for himself. Have you ever felt sorry for yourself – a “pity party,” as it’s called, and you’re the only one invited? That’s the mark of depression and despondency. “And I, even I only, am left.” Elijah was in the real throes of depression, and he was useless to God. He was 300 miles away from the place that he ought to be, feeling sorry for himself. Elijah was despondent under a juniper tree; he was depressed in a cave; now notice that Elijah was delivered before the Lord.
The Lord dealt with him in verses 11 and 12: “. . . Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire a still, small voice.” Wind, earthquakes, fire – all symbols of God’s mighty power, and Elijah had known that type of ministry. He had been the one who had thundered, who had blown, who had quaked. He had been a man of power, but somehow, God was teaching him a lesson here. God was not in any of these things, but He was very present in a “still, small voice.”
What was He teaching Elijah here? Great natural catastrophes like those mentioned can quickly destroy men’s lives, but only the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit can regenerate men through the patient teaching of the Word. Elijah’s problem was shared by the two disciples of James who wanted a Samaritan village, which had refused them hospitality, to be destroyed by fire from Heaven – Elijah style! They were rebuked by the Savior for their wrong spirit (Lk. 9: 55). In the same way, God does not always work in such outward displays of vengeance. Elijah’s new type of ministry was to be of the “still, small voice” variety, in contrast to the preceding dramatic measures.
Verses 13 and 14: “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And God begins to deal with His depressed prophet. Verse 18: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” With that answer, He dealt with Elijah’s excuse – “I’m the only one left” (paraphrased). In effect, God said to His prophet: “You are not indispensable, Elijah, you’re not the only one. And if you go and do something else and forsake the prophetic ministry, I may just get one of those 7,000 to do it. Don’t think that you’re a privileged character with God.” Don’t think that because you’re the only one doing the work, that you’ve some sort of special privilege.
Dear reader, don’t think that you’re indispensable to God. You may be in the throes of despondency and despair simply because you think that.
Now, how does God deal with the depression of Elijah? Verses 15-17: “And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu, the son of Nimshi, shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel. And Elisha, the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy stead. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael, shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu, shall Elisha slay.” He told Elijah to do three things: anoint a king of Syria, anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha as his (Elijah’s) successor. One of the greatest problems with depressed people is that they have lost their willingness to serve the Lord. They are sitting around doing nothing, feeling sorry for themselves. One of the best therapies is simply to get busy. The cure for Elijah’s depression was to get his eyes on the Lord, to recognize that he was not indispensable, and then to get busy and stop feeling sorry for himself. Get your focus outward and not inward. Get your eyes off yourself and get them on the Lord. Get your eyes off the problems and on the tasks at hand. Get busy for the Lord and stop feeling sorry for yourself. That’s the best therapy you can have. Elijah did that, and thank God, because of his tremendous deliverance at the hand of the Lord, his ministry was not over. Because he was delivered from this abominable depression, much of his greatest ministry still lay ahead.